Arts feature: Wood as muse

Jackie Mantey, Columbus Alive

Talk about a man cave.

Inside the Columbus Idea Foundry studio of Devon Palmer - a senior systems administrator (IT guy) at Value City Furniture by day, woodturner by every other time - is the following: a photo of one of his two golden retrievers, dog treats, a huge tool chest and a bottle of The Glenlivet scotch.

"That's for when things don't go so well," Palmer joked.

Sounds super Ron Swanson-y, but Palmer is more than open about his life and craft, unlike the curmudgeonly director of Pawnee's parks and rec.

"There is no greater joy I get than knowing someone is using something I made," Palmer said. "The more connected to it they are, the more connected they are to me."

Palmer crafts wooden bowls, pet urns, pens, vases and more out of logs destined for the throw-away pile. He uses a tool called a wood lathe, which spins the log at 25 miles per hour, to carve the desired shape.

He inspects each piece before he begins, having learned the most interesting pieces come when the damaged part of the wood is transformed. The metaphor's not lost on him.

"I like stuff that's unique," Palmer said. "Our damage is the thing that makes us beautiful. We sell ourselves short."

Palmer's deep respect for the emotional connections his art can espouse is due to his own personal relationships shaped through the process of woodturning.

Growing up on a 640-acre farm in Van Buren, Indiana, Palmer and his father, Danny, worked side by side taking care of the livestock and doing chores. It wasn't until 2003, after Palmer had moved to Columbus, that the two started learning the new hobby together after they both mentioned they were interested in turning wood. Whenever Palmer would go home to Indiana, the two would learn a new technique or how to use a new tool.

"It became a great way to connect with him later in life," Palmer said. "I work in IT and so much stuff is virtual. This is getting back to my roots."

Every time he turns a bowl, he meditates on how important family is.

"Bowls represent family, coming together, breaking bread," Palmer said. "Every time I make one I think of that."

Before the Great Recession, Palmer turned almost 8,000 pounds of wood per year. His record is filling an entire Dumpster with wood shavings in two days.

He's also put a lot of money into his hobby, having invested nearly $60,000 in equipment. That's why Palmer is developing woodturning programs and workshops through the Foundry for interested parties that want to try out the art but not cough up nearly thousands just to get started. Ladies too! The most talented members of the Central Ohio Woodturners organization, Palmer said, are women, and he's planning a women-only woodturning workshop for later this year.

"It's sharing my joy," Palmer said. "It's actually quite the selfish thing."